November 4, 2011
Dear Mayo Clinic:
If sitting for six hours a day is unhealthy, as recent studies suggest, what are some quick, easy ways to keep healthy if your job requires sitting for hours on end?
Sitting for long stretches without any activity day after day can lead to health problems. So weaving activity into your day is important to maintain good health. Some creativity may be necessary, but there are many ways you can get moving, even with a job that keeps you in your seat much of the time.
Make activity part of your routine. For example, if you spend a lot of time in meetings, consider making some of them walk-and-talk meetings. Before the meeting, ask the others who are planning to attend if they would be willing to walk while discussing agenda items. If someone needs to take notes, walk for the first part of the meeting to bounce ideas off one other, then sit down to record what you need to.
If walking and talking isn't an option, ask your meeting facilitator for permission to stand or pace during the meeting. Not only does this provide some activity in your day, it will often keep you more alert and focused on the task at hand than if you are stuck in a chair for an hour or two during the discussion.
Another possibility is pacing while you're on the phone — simply walking back and forth as you talk. If you're not on a wireless device, you may need to ask for a longer telephone cord. If you spend considerable time on the phone, pacing can be an easy way to infuse quite a bit of movement into your day.
If you must sit to do your job, identify times in your day where you can move. For example, if you are a truck driver, walk around while your truck is being loaded and unloaded. If you're a telemarketer who has to sit in front of a computer, go for walks during breaks. Find a co-worker to join you. If someone accompanies you, it's often easier to stay motivated and continue being active.
Check into your company's programs, too. Many employers provide free or reduced-cost memberships to health clubs. Take advantage of them. More companies are also investing in equipment their employees can use to stay active during the workday, such as treadmill desks, portable stepping machines and company-owned bikes made available to employees.
Keep in mind that sedentariness isn't just an issue of not burning calories and increasing your risk of obesity. Inactivity also makes you prone to diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, poor sleep and even premature death. Whether it's walk-and-talk meetings, parking at the far end of the lot and taking extra steps to and from your building, or using the stairs instead of the elevator, all activity is beneficial. The more you do, the fewer health problems you're likely to have.
Remember, too, that in addition to daily activity, you can take many other steps to stay healthy. For example, eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep and not smoking can all go a long way to maintaining your overall health.
It's not always easy to work healthy activity into your day, especially when your job keeps you in a chair. But people frequently report that when they are active on a regular basis, they feel brighter, more energized, happier and more productive. Whatever you can do to get and stay active is sure to be well worth your efforts.
— James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., Endocrinology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.